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GEO renews bid for detention center in Gary

Gary Crusader staff report

GEO Group Inc. plans to renew its bid for a $65 million immigration processing and detention center near the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

Four months after the group encountered heavy opposition, the group on April 12, will ask the Board of Zoning Appeals for use variance for the same property located northwest of the airport.

“The GEO Group is excited and optimistic by the opportunity to partner with the City of Gary. Through the city’s approval process we will be able to provide accurate information about the project and its significant benefits to the residents of Gary,” said Pablo E. Paez, vice president of GEO corporate relations in a statement. The construction and operation of the new facility in Gary will create more than 200 good-paying jobs — with hiring preference given to local residents — and provide significant direct investments in the city’s economic development programs and public safety initiatives,”

GEO wants to build an 800-bed immigrant detention center on three parcels along Industrial Highway, across from the airport. The MIDCO II Environmental Clean Up superfund site is on the east side of the parcels. GEO Spokesperson Armando Saleh said GEO could purchase the property if the land is rezoned.

While GEO officials say the center would help Gary’s economy, residents and activist believe the facility would hurt Gary’s image. They point to human rights abuses to prison detainees at GEO’s facilities around the world. During its initial bid last year, dozens of activists flooded council chambers at City Hall, urging the BZA to reject the proposal. The appeals led Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson to withdraw her support for GEO’s proposal. On November 10, GEO withdrew its petition at a BZA meeting.

GEO’s proposal was met with a similar response in Hobart, where it owns 40 acres of land. While GEO never disclosed any plans for the site, the company has faced stiff opposition from residents and city officials.

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